Alberto Contador’s claims that he is innocent of all doping charges centre on the same defence as was used by French tennis player Richard Gasquet, one of his lawyers has revealed.

Two years ago tennis player Gasquet was cleared of doping after insisting that he had tested positive for a tiny quantity of cocaine because he had kissed a girl in a disco in Miami. Both the French Tennis Federation and WADA considered that even though this was an unlikely cause for a positive, it was the most probable reason.

According to Contador’s lawyer Andy Ramos Gil, writing in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Contador’s argument is essentially the same: that even if eating contaminated beef sounds like an implausible reason for finding tiny traces of a banned substance in his organism, that is the most likely explanation. Equally, like Gasquets said about his cocaine positive, the clenbuterol could have had no effect on his performance because it was present in such tiny quantities.

Contador lined up no less than 13 different medical reports in his defence, all of which backed his theory, and he has also pointed out that similar cases, like that of other road racing pros Alessandro Coló and Li Fuyu, table tennis player Dimitri Ovtcharov and MTBer Rudy Van Houts, all allegedly had their roots in the same problem: contaminated meat.

However, what the lawyer’s article in El Mundo does not mention is that all of these positives occurred after the athletes had consumed meat in countries where fattening of livestock via clenbuterol was either permitted or widely overlooked – Ovtcharov and Fiyu in China, Colo and Van Houts in Mexico. In France, where Contador tested positive, use of clenbuterol in animals is banned.

It can be argued that meat testing in Europe is insufficient – there certainly seems to be evidence to suggest that. But why, then, have more clenbuterol cases not appeared? Or have they perhaps not been reported by the WADA laboratories, given the amount that was found in Contador’s organism was so small?

The answer to that could be in what Zhao Jian, deputy director of China’s Anti-Doping Agency, told the Associated Press in a recent interview.

“If pork meat or liver is heavily contaminated, you can test positive from it, but not every time. That’s fact, scientifically proven. You can test positive from contaminated meat.”

When Detief Thieme, boss of Germany’s other WADA-accredited lab in Kreischa was questioned on the same theory of contaminated meat, he agreed with Jian:

“No doubt about it, that’s undisputed, it’s a very pressing problem and the faster it’s solved the better.”

There are various arguments against Contador’s defence: that the rules are the rules and Contador was found positive with a banned substance in his system; that there was other indirect possible indications of his doping, such as the alleged presence of plasticizers in his system; that he had links to Operacion Puerto (of which he was later cleared by the UCI, but there is no smoke without a fire); and that he is the latest in a long, long list of Spanish athletes to fall foul of the anti-doping system.

This last issue is also critical. Spain’s track record in battling doping is uneven, to say the least. And over the years Spanish cycling has justifiably earned itself a poor reputation internationally. But to reject all Spanish cyclists out of hand the minute there is the remotest suspicion of doping is hardly fair, either.

Contador has now returned home from the Saxo Bank training camp in Mallorca to await the definitive verdict on his suspension from the Spanish Cycling Federation, due on February 9.

Related links

Contador says he will fight on despite provisional ban

UCI awaits final Spanish decision in Contador case

  • Sean

    The Spanish daily La Vanguardia claims that WADA investigators have tracked the meat Alberto Contador blames for his positive clenbuterol test to a Spanish provider whose products have never before shown traces of clenbuterol. The paper also reports that only one case of meat contamination turned up among 286,748 quality control tests conducted on European beef in 2008, and that lone sample was found in Italy.

    face it alberto, you’re a doper and guilty…They’re going after you for clenbuterol, but there was plastisizer found too. I’m sure the steak had both right?

  • Paul Ecroyd

    Who cares, the wheels will keep turning!

  • Ian Horton, Derby

    If Alex (31 Jan) is correct that Contador was tested both the day before and the day after the disputed test with
    negative results, then in view of the minuscule amounts involved, any charges against him in a court of law would
    surely be ‘laughed out’. In view of the way the UCI dealt with the matter in the early stages, they must know this,
    but would rather see one of the most exciting riders of our generation suffer, than admit it, and press for a fairer
    and juster process.

  • Michael Mace

    Well done Nigel Scales for such an inteligent and informative comment. All other posters should read his comments.
    Paragraph two is especially informative and I urge all readers to read it.
    I will be very sad if Senior Contador is found guilty and banned as he is a great cyclist.
    Mayby he should take a lie detecter test? Not infallible I know but it would clear him in a lot of peoples minds.

  • David Reekie

    Unfortunately the sport of cycling has had a few ‘doping’ claims so I have to agree with most that has been said. These guys know the rules, and if you are at a physical point where you can compete at the top level of this sport or any other you MUST know what you are putting into your body and if you are stupid enough not to know then you suffer the consequences.
    So I’m really sorry Alberto but you should be history, shut up accept your punishment and never cycle competitively again and perhaps this will be the start of cleaning up a sport that seriously needs cleaning up.

  • Nigel Scales

    I’m anti-doping and think penalties should be gradually ratchetted up as the sport cleans up until only the terminally stupid/arrogant try to cheat, however I’m very uncomfortable with the Contador witch-hunt. The reporting of relevant material to the case seems a bit patchy, with more emphasis on the negatives, which I can understand to a point given Landis etc, but it doesn’t make it right.

    Contaminated meat – widespread use of clenbuterol in China and, significantly, South America. Ramon Riestra, a representative of Spanish agricultural association ASAJA reported that the EU has agreed with its South American equivalent, Mercosur, to import 20 million tons of meat over three years with Spain receiving a minumum of two million tons. Although there is testing to prevent contaminated meat being imported, Riestra claimed that they were insufficient and ineffective – after the initial test of a supplier’s meat there is very limited subsequent testing. The port cited as the major import location, Saint Jean de Luz, is close to Irun, home to the Spanish butcher where Contador’s friend sourced the allegedly contaminated meat.. WADA tested meat at this butcher some time after Contador’s positive – is it likely he’d have kept dodgy meat on the premises after the furore started?? (And presumably he turns his stock over fairly quickly anyway.) More tellingly, a few weeks after Contador’s positive became public knowledge, the Guardia Civil arrested 34 people in Spain (specifically the Canary Islands), accusing them of being part of a ring supplying clenbuterol for illicit use. The group included pharmacists, vets and a cattle-breeder. (Also, unfortunately, a cyclist but presumably not Contador!) No smoke without fire as the article said…

    Operacion Puerto – If he’s been cleared, he’s been cleared. (Oscar Pereiro was also implicated, hence delay in announcing him as 2006 Tour winner when Landis was dethroned. He offered to supply DNA to prove his innocence and had to prove Urco wasn’t his dog’s name! . Eventually it turned out that Urco was an athlete, a distance runner and Pereiro was finally cleared.)

    Plasticisers – It’s not yet an approved test so caution is definitely indicated. The reported levels (8-10 times above normal) appear damning but Dr. Jordi Segura, who developed the test, expressed surprise that the Cologne lab that used the test hadn’t contacted him given the high-profile nature of the case and noted that it was important to also look at these levels in samples before and after the positive. (I also wonder whether it’s possible to show signs of the plasticisers through eating a contaminated product – I have no idea whether any intensive cattle-farming technique would involve transfusion bags – maybe the readership includes somenone with expertise in this area and can comment.) This is the element that bothers me most in the case against, but, while I don’t like the idea of a doper getting off on a technicality, there’s good reason why tests need to be thoroughly validaed before being used officially.

    Obviously we haven’t seen all the detail of the scientific cases on both sides but I think when we’re talking about someone’s career and reputation we have to be pretty sure before labelling them a doper and sanctioning them. (But I’d like to see tougher maximum penalties once they’re nailed.)

    It’s also fine to say an athlete is responsible for anything in their body – when you’re talking about medication, supplements etc it’s relatively straightforward to check the ingredients but do you run tests on your McDonalds burger before eating it…?? (And, having worked in the Pharmaceuticals industry I am well aware of the problems of cross-contamination – process operators working on some products at my site were not supposed to eat lunch with operators working on paediatric/geriatric (PG) dosage products because of fears that the active ingredient potentially coating their overalls could be dangerous to the weaker constitutions of children/the elderly, but you’d have to know that your usual lunch companion was on a PG product and there was always a risk that you sat in a chair subsequently used by a PG product operator.)

    I think the minimum outcome of Contador’s test should have been targetted testing but, plasticiser test aside, I’m not convinced suspension is appropriate.

    (Also, posters need to read the article before starting typing – no-one’s suggesting he ingested clenbuterol by kissing someone, the reference to “Gasquet’s kiss” is only that it’s a similar argument of accidental and unknowing ingestion – Gasquet’s defence referred to cocaine, where ingestion via a kiss is apparently technically possible.)

  • Peter

    It is rather convenient that Clenbutarol strips fat and builds muscle which is exactly the kind of performance enhancing drug you would choose as a cheating pro cyclist. It’s rather hard to believe Contador is innocent but I suppose it wasa better excuse than Floyd Landis could come up with!

  • George

    He’s as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo

  • Chris

    tricky this really, I tend to go “thems the rules buddy boy”, all pro-athletes, cyclists, swimmers, rowers and certainly Lance the man – have exhaustive tests and have rarely shown positives however small, like “me learned friend” said above – if it is there then how do we know there wasn’t more ?, like we say no smoke no fire”!

  • Lucas

    With you all the way Adam.
    If they let Contador off with this it will open the floodgates for cheats in all sports.
    “EPO” i must have kissed a lot of girls last night.
    “Clenbutarol” I ate 25 burgers last night, must have been them.

    I dont care how small the amount was, It is banned and it was in his system. Guilty.
    How many other riders tested positive for it during the Tour ?
    None, thats how many.
    Also, why was he given a month to come up with his excuse? I think the UCI need to explain that one.

  • Wilf

    As Tour leader he must have been tested both before and after this occassion; so why only one positive?
    While the regulation stipulates zero, can you be charged if the amount detected is below the standard of accuracy required for the test procedure?
    I think most people are now sceptical of any high level sportsman’s keeping away from drugs. There is a very thin line between what is a drug and chargeable, and what is a legitimate dietry supplement.

  • adam

    OK, i’m sceptical from the start… been following cycling too long not to be, unfortunately.


    Even if there’s a small amount, couldn’t that be the remaining traces of a larger amount?

    Aren’t pro athletes ENTIRELY repsonsible for whatever they put in their bodies?

    Isn’t the idea that ‘because it’s banned, it isn’t happening that much’ in regard to farmers using banned products to improve their profit on meat a little blinkered? Lots of things are banned, doens’t mean they aren’t happening. Likewise, the arguement that if it was so prevalent, surely it would show up more in more tests? Er… hello… the history of cycling is littered with ‘prevalent’ drug use that hasn’t shown up. Miller never tested positive. Riis never tested positive (sort of).

  • Chris Clarkson

    I honestly believe that Contador did not knowingly take Clenbuterol, do you really think he would throw away his reputation and sheer hard work for such a miniscule amount of the drug. He is a victim of his own succsess, this has been blown out of all proportion because the story sells! I for one respect and admire the guy and pray that the UCI see sense and reinstate him. Le Tour will go on without him but he is one of its heros !

  • Jim Kendall

    If Alberto Contador were a close personal friend, my friendly advice to him would be to retire from the professional cycling arena, permanently. The industry has let him down; and the federations in judgment have shown themselves to be immature lug-heads. This is not a group I’d encourage “my friend Alberto” to continue in relationship with.
    That said; It occurs to me that the last many months have probably been for Contador severely emotionally draining – they certainly would have been for myself – and brimful of uncertainties; that I don’t know that Alberto would be able to be in top-form, even if he’d qualified for this year’s Tour.
    Were I Contador, I’d welcome the respite: AND I WOULD NOT RETURN.

  • Alex

    The plasticizer test is unproven, the Clenbuterol was not sufficient to enhance performance, and none was found in either the previous days test or the next, and he was cleared by WADA of any involvement in Puerto. Although unlikely to have come from contaminated meat it’s the most plausible explanation, as the Spanish authorities have conceded. If that’s not reasonable doubt, I don’t know what is. This year’s Tour will be all the poorer without Contador. Even Andy Schleck doesn’t believe he won in 2010. It’s time to sort this doping mess out. No wonder no one takes cycling seriously in the UK.

  • Mike

    Makes the dog ate my homework excuse sound cast iron as a defense.

    If it wasnt so stupid I may have laughed.

    Two years, plus an extra one for wasting our time.

  • Rick Robson

    What? So Contador won the Tour whilst kissing lots of ladies? Could WADA hold an amnesty for anyone who snogged Contador last july and is partial to a pork / liver / clenbuterol burger? Dodgy clientel in dodgy French disco’s – shut them all down.

  • Dave

    Was traces found in his system- the answer is YES, was there signs of plasticizers found, again it is yes. Has he had links to operation Puerto, again yes and finally does the fans really believe that riders can continuously win the grand tours year in and year out ?
    The defense that he is continuously tested has also been used and worn thin by his ex team mate who also seemed invincible.